D.C., March 29,
2007 - New documents published
today by the National Security Archive shed light on recent revelations
about the links between bananas and terror in Colombia and the
Colombian government's own ties to the country's illegal paramilitary
The scandal is further detailed in an article by
National Security Archive Colombia analyst Michael Evans published
today on the Web site of The Nation magazine.
March 9, 2007, indictment
against Chiquita Brands International sheds light on both
corporate and state ties to Colombia's illegal paramilitary
Earlier this month, Chiquita, the international
fruit corporation, admitted to funding a Colombian terrorist group
and agreed to pay a $25 million fine. The
Justice Department indictment, filed March 13 in D.C. Federal
Court, states that Chiquita gave more than $1.7 million to the
United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de
Colombia - AUC), an illegal right-wing anti-guerrilla group tied
to many of the country's most notorious civilian massacres.
Key documents from the Chiquita
case, along with a collection of newly-available declassified
documents, are posted here today.
The payments were made over seven years from 1997-2004.
At least $825,000 in payments came after the AUC was designated
a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. State Department
Many of these payments were made through "intermediaries"
in a Colombian government-sponsored program known as Convivir,
a network of rural security cooperatives established by the military
to police rural areas and provide intelligence on leftist insurgents.
Declassified documents suggest that Convivir
members often collaborated with paramilitary operations.
The Convivir connection is especially important now, as current
President Álvaro Uribe was
a key sponsor of the program while governor of Anitoquia department.
Antioquia's banana-growing Urabá region is also the locus
of Chiquita's Colombia operations. As president, Uribe has implemented
similar programs involving
the use of civilian informants and soldiers.
published today, along with additional documents
included here, describes a pattern of increasingly-strong links
between military and paramilitary forces in Urabá over
the period of Chiquita's payments to the AUC. Chiquita's relationship
with the group coincided with a massive projection of paramilitary
power thoughout Colombia. U.S. officials strongly suspected that
these operations were at least tolerated by--and at times coordinated
with--Colombian security forces.
The Chiquita-Convivir scandal comes as the Los Angeles Times
a report that the CIA has new information connecting Colombia's
Army chief, Gen. Mario Montoya, one of President Uribe's top advisers,
to a paramilitary group. The new allegation adds fuel to the "para-politics"
scandal, which has already taken down several top government officials
and implicated many others in connection to the AUC.
Today's posting is the first in a series of new Archive postings
on the U.S. government's perception of Colombia's paramiltary
movement and its links to Colombian security forces. Under a program
developed by the Uribe government to disarm and demobilize the
AUC, paramilitary leaders are eligible for reduced prison sentences
in exchange for voluntary confessions and the payment of reparations
to their victims. However, the commission established to adjudicate
this process is not authorized to investigate state crimes or
the history of the government's links to paramilitary forces.
Documents made available on the Archive Web site today include:
- the Justice Department's
indictment in the Chiquita case, detailing the company's
relationship with AUC chief Carlos Castaño, the fugitive
(and now deceased) paramilitary leader;
- a U.S. Embassy cable
in which Colombia's police intelligence chief "sheepishly"
admitted that his forces "do not act" in parts of
the country under AUC control;
- another Embassy cable
in which Ambassador Myles Frechette warned that the government's
Convivir program was liable to "degenerate into uncontrolled
- a U.S. military intelligence
report on a Colombian Army colonel who told of the "potential"
for the Convivir "to devolve into full-fledged paramilitaries";
- and CIA reports on the Colombian Army's paramilitary ties,
one of which found that
armed forces commanders had "little inclination to combat
The full article is available
on the Web site of The Nation.
following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe
Acrobat Reader to view.
With the exception of the Justice Department indictment, all documents
published here were obtained by the Archive's Colombia Documentation
Project through Freedom of Information Act requests.
States of America v. Chiquita Brands International, Inc., Defendant,
March 13, 2007
The indictment details Chiquita's seven-year relationship
with Carlos Castaño's AUC. The paramilitary chief arranged
the payments in 1997 with Banadex, a wholly-owned Chiquita subsidiary.
Castaño "informed the [Banadex] General Manager that
the AUC was about to drive the FARC [guerrillas] out of Urabá,"
and also that "failure to make the payments could result
in physical harm to Banadex personnel and property."
The company was to "make payments to an intermediary
known as a 'convivir,'" groups used by the AUC "as fronts
to collect money from businesses for use to support its illegal
activities." The Convivir were rural security cooperatives
established by the military to police rural areas and provide
intelligence on leftist insurgents.
The Justice Department lists some 50 payments made by Chiquita
after the State Deparment designated the AUC a terrorist organization
in September 2001. The company made at least 19 of these payments
after the company voluntarily disclosed the payments to the Justice
Department in April 2003, and despite strong warnings from its
lawyers to terminate the relationship.
stop payments," read one note quoted in the indictment.
Line: CANNOT MAKE THE PAYMENT"
"Advised NOT TO MAKE ALTERNATIVE PAYMENT throught CONVIVIR."
"General Rule: Cannot do indirectly what you cannot do
voluntarily put yourself in this position. Duress defense can
wear out through repetition. Buz [business] decision to stay
in harm's way. Chiquita should leave Colombia."
1: U.S. Embassy Bogotá, cable, Botero Human Rights
Letter to A/S Shattuck, December 9, 1994
The U.S. Embassy was skeptical when first confronted
with the Colombian defense ministry's plan to create the network
of "rural security cooperatives" that would ultimately
come to be known as Convivir. In a cable that covered an array
of human rights issues, Ambassador Myles Frechette was emphatic
about the proposal's inherent dangers:
believe that the point that needs to be made to the minister
is that Colombia's protracted, vaguely ideological internal
conflict is quite sui generis and that there has never been
an example in Colombia of a para-statal security group that
has not ultimately operated with wanton disregard for human
rights or been corrupted by local economic interests."
2: U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Information
Report, Colar 17th Brigade Responsible for the Uraba Antioquia
Region, April 29, 1996
This report from the U.S. military attaché
in Colombia describes the security situation in Urabá,
the region where much of Chiquita's operations are located. The
document describes a tense situation involving ongoing struggles
between EPL and FARC guerrillas, "fighting each other for
control of unions and politics in the banana area." According
to the indictment,
from 1989 until the AUC payments began in 1997, Chiquita had been
making similar payments to Colombian guerilla groups. The commander
of the Army's local 17th Brigade, Gen. Rito Alejo del Río,
told the attaché "that paramilitaries are the only
individuals that subversive elements fear."
3: U.S. Embassy Bogotá, cable, Samper Hosts Governors'
Meeting on Crime, October 9, 1996
Following a meeting with Colombian President Ernesto
Samper and other government officials, the U.S. Embassy reported
that Antioquia Governor Álvaro Uribe (the current president
of Colombia) had called for "the proliferation of the controversial
civilian rural security cooperatives known collectively as 'Convivir.'"
Uribe said that the Convivir had "led to the capture of guerrilla
leaders in the region," and called on the government to arm
some of the groups. The Embassy adds the comment that "most
human rights observers believe the Convivir groups pose a serious
danger of becoming little more that vigilante organizations."
The government's human rights ombudsman had "begun to receive
complaints against these groups for exceeding their mandate,"
according to the Embassy report.
4: U.S. Embassy Bogotá, cable, 40,000 Colombians
March to Protest Wave of Kidnappings; Paramilitary Group Releases
Two Guerrilla Relatives, December 2, 1996
In a testament to the AUC's growing influence among Colombian
security forces, Colombia's police intelligence chief "sheepishly"
told U.S. Embassy officers that "the police 'do not act'
in the part of Urabá under [Carlos] Castano's control."
The statement came in response to an Embassy query as to why Colombian
police had not arrested Castaño, "who
had openly admitted to kidnapping guerrilla relatives."
5: U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Information
Report, Colombian Prosecutor Comments on Paramilitaries in
Uraba, December 7, 1996
Paramilitaries had become "a law unto themselves" in
Urabá constituting "a potentially greater threat to
the government than ... the guerrillas," according to this
military intelligence report, based on comments from a Colombian
prosecutor. The document describes the violence there as "basically
a turf war to determine which group [paramilitaries or guerrillas]
will control the rich banana-growing region (and the lucrative
illicit narcotics operations within it)." The report adds
that, "The military's influence and control over paramilitaries
that we so often logically assume to exist may, in fact, be tenuous
at best and non-existent in some cases."
6: U.S. Embassy Bogotá, cable, Retired Army Colonel
Lambastes Military for Inaction Against Paramilitaries, January
In January 1997, retired Army Colonel Carlos Alfonso Velásquez
publicly criticized the Colombian Army, particularly 17th Brigade
Commander Gen. Rito Alejo del Río,
for tolerance of paramilitary forces in Urabá. In this
cable, the U.S. Embassy characterizes Velásquez as a man
of "unquestionable integrity," adding that his statements
"bring extra pressure to bear on the Colombian military"
and "add credibility" to the State Department's critical
human rights report on Colombia.
7: U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Information
Report, Guerrillas Launch New Wave of Bombings in Uraba and
Cordoba -- Paramilitaries Respond with Murder and Kidnappings
(Laser Strike), March 14, 1997
U.S. military intelligence reports ongoing violence
in Urabá, noting that, "Recent events contrast sharply
with earlier 17th Brigade reports claiming that Uraba had largely
been pacified." The report says it remains unclear whether
a recent shift by FARC guerillas to "terrorist-style bombings"
represents "a long-term FARC strategy, or a temporary tactic
for retaliating against the paramilitaries for driving them out
of certain conflictive zones and discouraging the civilian population
from assisting paramilitary organizations." The document
adds that the Colombian government had only recently "acknowledged
that paramilitaries are a valid threat to public order that requires
8: U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Information
Report, The Convivir in Antioquia -- Becoming Institutionalized
and Spreading Its Reach, April 7, 1997
In this document, an undisclosed source describes
how the Convivir operate in Antioquia. The interlocutor was "insistent
that there are striking differences between the legal ... sanctioned
Convivirs and the illegal paramilitaries that are declared enemies
of the state." The Convivir are merely "one more 'legal
tool' for integrating counterguerrilla-oriented elements into
9: U.S. Embassy Bogotá, cable, MoD Alleged to have
Authorized Illegal Arms Sales to Convivirs and Narcotraffickers,
April 9, 1997
In April 1997, a Colombian magazine published allegations that
officials in Colombia's Ministry of Defense had illegally sold
weapons to Convivir linked to narcotraffickers and paramilitaries.
This highly-excised document indicates that U.S. Embassy military
and diplomatic contacts had "lent a significant degree of
credibility to the allegations."
10: U.S. State Department, cable, Bedoya Call for Militia,
April 11, 1997
In this cable, the State Department's Principal Deputy Assistant
Secretary for Latin America, Peter Romero, criticizes a new plan
by Gen. Harold Bedoya, the armed forces commander, to create "national
militias." Romero mentions problems the government has had
with the Convivir program, adding that "establishing yet
another set of armed combatants would, if experience is any guide,
bring a host of more flagrant human rights abuses."
11: CIA, Intelligence Report, Colombia: Paramilitaries
Gaining Strength, June 13, 1997
This CIA report finds "scant indication that the [Colombian]
military leadership is making an effort to directly confront the
paramilitary groups or to devote men or resources to stop their
activities in an amount commensurate with the dimensions of the
problem." Logistical problems and the "popular perception
that the military is 'losing the war' against the guerrillas"
has had a profound effect on military forces. As a result of these
frustrations, "informational links and instances of active
coordination between military and paramilitaries are likely to
continue," according the the CIA.
The following month--in an operation that signalled the beginning
of a major expansion of paramilitary power throughout Colombia--Urabá-based
paramilitaries under the direction of Carlos Castaño
would massacre some 30 civilians at Mapiripán, an act later
shown to have been facilitated by local military forces.
12: U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Information
Report, Senior Colombian Army Officer Biding His Time During
Remainder of Samper Regime, July 15, 1997
A "senior Colombian Army officer" told U.S. offiicials
in July 1997 that there were "serious problems with the legal
'Convivir' movement," according to this military intelligence
report. The unnamed officer compared the Convivir to the "Rondas
Campesinas" in Peru, calling them "very difficult to
control." According to the colonel, the Ministry of Defense
was aware of the "potential for Convivir's to devolve into
full-fledged paramilitaries," but was "reluctant to
admit it publicly."
13: U.S. Embassy Bogotá, cable, Scandal Over Army
Request to Convivir in Antioquia, October 8, 1997
This cable reports on the October 1997 revelation by Colombian
Senator Fabio Valencia that a high-ranking Colombian Army officer
had circulated a memo asking local Convivir organizations to "to
send the Army lists of local candidates, including their political
affiliations, degree of acceptance among the people, their sympathies
toward democratic institutions, government and military forces,
and what degree of local influence they wield."
14: U.S. Embassy Bogotá, cable, Paramilitary Massacres
Leave 21 Dead, November 24, 1997
After Mapiripán, one of the next
major projections of paramilitary power in Colombia was the November
21, 1997, La Horqueta massacre, in which paramilitaries killed
14 people in a village outside the Colombian capital. Eyewitnesses
believed the attackers came from Colombia's northern coast, which
the Embassy notes is "home of Carlos Castaño's
paramilitary group." A prominent Colombian expert told the
Embassy that the massacre "sent a message to the FARC that
the paramilitaries can go anywhere and do anything." "The
fact that no trace of the killers has turned up yet despite the
presence of hundreds of police and soldiers in the wake of the
killings is not encouraging," according to the cable.
15: CIA, Intelligence Report, Colombia: Update on Links
Between Military, Paramilitary Forces, December 2, 1997
This highly-excised CIA report states that "prospects for
a concerted effort by the military high command to crack down
on paramilitaries--and the officers that cooperate with them--appear
dim." Both the current and former armed forces chiefs--Gens.
Manuel Bonett and Harold Bedoya--had shown "little inclination
to combat paramilitary groups." Tacit acceptance of paramilitary
operations by some officers "are longstanding and will not
be easily reversed," according to the report.
The CIA calls the recent paramilitary expansion into traditionally
guerrilla-controlled territory "the most significant change
we have seen in recent months and one which has further degraded
Colombia's already poor security and human rights situation."
The Mapiripán massacre was one notable example. One intelligence
source told the CIA "that Castano would not have flown forces
and weapons into a civilian airport known to have a large police
presence if he had not received prior assurances that they would
be allowed to pass through."
16: U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Information
Report, Cashiered Colonel Talks Freely about the Army He Left
Behind (Laser Strike), December 24, 1997
There is a "body count syndrome" in the Colombian Army's
counterinsurgency strategy that "tends to fuel human rights
abuses by otherwise well-meaning soldiers trying to get their
quota to impress superiors," according to a recently-retired
Colombian Army colonel whose comments form the basis of this intelligence
report. According to the officer, the obsession with body counts
is in part responsible for commanders "allowing the paramilitaries
to serve as proxies for the [Colombian army] in contributing to
the guerrilla body count." The 17th Brigade in Urabá
had been cooperating with paramilitaries "for a number of
years," he said, but it "had gotten much worse"
under the command of Gen. Rito Alejo del Río. Gen. Del
Río was later indicted but ultimately acquitted of collusion
with paramilitaries by the Prosecutor General's office in May
The officer was critical of several other high-level military
commanders, including Gen. Jorge Enrique Mora, who would later
serve as armed forces commander. Mora had a clean public reputation,
according to the officer, but was "probably was one of those
who looked the other way" with respect to collaboration with
paramilitaries. Former armed forces commander Gen. Harold Bedoya
"fell into the same category," in that both officers
"never allowed themselves to become directly involved in
encouraging or supporting paramilitary activities, but they turned
their backs to what was happening and felt the [Colombian army]
should in no way be blamed for any resulting human rights atrocities
17: U.S. Embassy Bogotá, cable, Narcos Arrested
for La Horqueta Paramilitary Massacre, January 28, 1998
One of the perpetrators of the November 1997 La Horqueta massacre
(see Document 14) was identified as the president
of an Urabá-based Convivir, according to this U.S. Embassy
cable. The Convivir member was "imported to the region"
by a "local landowner and presumed narcotrafficker who had
hired ... Uraba-based paramilitaries to execute the massacre."
The local Army 13th Brigade was "strangely non-reactive"
to the killings, according to the cable. The brigade, the Embassy
adds, "recently came under the command of BG Rito Alejo del
Rio, who earned considerable attention as the commander of the
17th Brigade covering the heartland of Carlos Castano's paramilitaries
in Cordoba and Uraba."
18: CIA, Intelligence Report, Colombia: Paramilitaries
Assuming a Higher Profile, August 31, 1998
Similar to a previous document
on the matter, this CIA report finds that "some senior military
officers--already suspicious of the peace process and frustrated
with the military's dismal performance on the battlefield--may
increasingly view turning a blind eye--and perhaps even offering
tacit support to--the paramilitaries as their best option for
striking back at the guerrillas." Like the previous report,
this one also predicts that "informational links and instances
of active coordination between the military and the paramilitaries"
were "likely to continue and perhaps even increase."
19: U.S. Embassy Bogotá, cable, A Closer Look at
Uribe's Auxiliary Forces, September 11, 2002
Soon after taking office in 2002, Colombian President Álvaro
Uribe announced that a key aspect of his national security strategy
would involve the use of civilian soldiers organized into local
militias. Key portions of this U.S. Embassy cable on the use of
"auxiliary forces" were deleted before release by the
State Department, suggesting that the Embassy may have harbored
reservations about the program based on the government's previous
experience with the Convivir.